#020: Expert Interview with Andrea Hays [Podcast] Skip to the content

#020: Expert Interview with Andrea Hays [Podcast]

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #20 – Andrea Hays

Jenn T Grace:

You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, Episode 20.

Intro:

Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

Well hello and welcome to episode number twenty of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and as always I am super excited that you are taking the time out of your day to listen to me for a while, educate you around all things LGBT business and marketing. So before I get into the guest that we have on the show today, I want to just share a couple of things with you.

A couple things to mention first..

So the first thing is that I want to welcome all of my new Canadian listeners. So I had the great pleasure of attending the Travel Gay Canada Conference this past week, and it was in Niagara. And it was a fantastic, fantastic conference. It was a smaller group of people, compared to conferences that have thousands of people and it’s really hard to make really good connections with folks. And it was a smaller crowd, but it was such an engaged crowd. So I would love to welcome all of you who are new listening to this podcast, who are now my Canadian friends, my friends to the north. So when I was at the conference I was there to speak about building LGBT consumer loyalty. And one of the pieces of the presentation that I had was, you know, the do’s and don’ts. The things that I talk to you about on this podcast on a regular basis, and I talk to you about on the blog. And I picked seven of my favorites, and I went through- it’s almost like the Seven Deadly Sins of LGBT Marketing. And I went through those, and I think it got the conference off to an interesting start because I threw out a lot of things that you should or should not say in a business setting, or when trying to acquire new LGBT customers.

So I think that the session went really well, I had a lot of people come up to me after and say that they enjoyed it, and it sparked a good amount of conversation throughout the presentation. And then towards the end there was a lot of chitchat back and forth between folks who were asking questions, and then rather than just me answering the questions, there were other folks in the audience answering the questions as well. So I love sparking conversations and sparking dialogue, so I was really pleased with the outcome of it.

So I wanted to mention my experience with talking to this group of people, but then I also want to share with you what happened to me on the way home from the conference. So I will be putting this into a blog for those who prefer reading, they can go find it on the blog at some point in the near future. But I just want to talk about it because it’s on my mind right now. So as you know the premise of what I do is primarily around educating folks on the communication do’s and don’ts of working with the LGBT community. So there’s a lot of things that you should or shouldn’t say, there’s different ways that you can phrase things that are going to have better success and results when you’re trying to acquire new customers. And what happened to me is such a prime example of exactly what I was talking about at the conference; so for it to have happened as I was leaving the hotel in route to the airport, was absolute perfect timing, because now I have a very relevant and timely topic to share with you as it just happened as I was just preaching about all this great stuff.

So I was at the conference and it was on Thursday and Friday, and there was something happening on Saturday as well. Unfortunately I had to get back to Connecticut on Friday afternoon, so I had to leave Friday morning. I had just enough time to see two sessions which were amazing, and I really wish I were able to be there for the rest of the day but I had to get out quick. So problem number one was the fact that I got so engaged in one of the sessions that I was not paying attention to the time, because of course I was in Canada so I was roaming and my phone was just racking up dollars by the minute, so I had the phone off and I don’t have a watch. So I was unaware of the time. So I looked down at the time and it was one of those oh crap moments, I need to run now to get my luggage to get out to the car that is waiting for me to bring me to the airport. So I get over to the car that’s there to pick me up, and I get in this great conversation with the guy bringing me to Buffalo Airport. So it’s about I would say maybe an hour, an hour and fifteen minute ride to get from where the hotel was to Buffalo Airport in New York. And it requires crossing the border which can take a few minutes as well, and all that fun stuff. So I’m knowing I’m going to be in the car with this guy for a good amount of time, I love having conversations with folks, so he and I start talking. And it without a doubt was one of the best and most interesting conversations I have had with somebody in a very, very long time. No offense to anyone I’ve talked to recently, but I really genuinely had such an amazing conversation with this guy.

So it was just around things that I’m really nerdy about, that I don’t really talk with other people about because I am such the oddball. So we started off- we were talking about politics first, and of course as you know the United States right now is in government shutdown mode, and it was really interesting to be in Canada to hear the Canadian views on what- how Canadians look at the government being shut down. So we start talking about that, and as I’m talking with him he’s really, really involved in US politics. So we’re talking about all of the issues with redistricting that are happening around the country. So then we’re- and this conversation just starts talking about politics, then we start talking about really specific political issues, then it kind of jumps over to somehow talking about 9/11 being a conspiracy theory, which then jumps us over to talking about secret societies like the Freemasons and the Illuminati, and it was the most- I’m sure anybody listening to us would not have been able to keep up because it was just jumping from really deep topic to really deep topic. So somehow in this conversation, and let me also point out that this past weekend was the Canadian Thanksgiving, so the line getting back into the US was treacherously long, and it actually took two hours from getting to the hotel to the airport, I think it took a little over two hours. So I made my flight just as they were calling my actual section, I was just walking up to the flight- like the area to get on the flight. So the ride itself was much longer than expected, but I was so enthralled in this conversation I was having with him that it didn’t- like the time was just kind of flying by.

So somehow in our conversation, and we ended up talking about- I’m not even sure how it came up, but we were talking about the- somehow religious prosecution came up. And like I said, our conversation was seriously all over the map. It was like every National Geographic or History Channel documentary that I’ve seen in the last five years rolled up into one two-hour car ride, it was crazy. But, so we’re talking about religious prosecution, which then somehow gets on Christianity and Christians being prosecuted for their lack of getting on board with LGBT equality. So now the guy who was picking me up from the conference center has no idea why I’m in Canada. He has no idea that I was just there speaking at an LGBT-specific conference. But at this point we’ve built a pretty good rapport with one another, because we’ve been talking about all of these really deep subjects that he himself said that he hasn’t been able to talk with people about in a long time. And as we get to the religious topic; that’s a topic that I try to stay away from, just because I have my own set of views on it, and I’m not here to enforce, or force my opinion down anyone’s throat in regards to religion. So I really tread lightly in the area of talking about religion with anybody.

So he starts talking about Christian people having LGBT rights basically being shoved down their throat and that they’re now being prosecuted for not being on board with equality, et cetera, et cetera. So I’m just listening and hearing him out, and just wanting to get a better understanding of where he’s coming from, because as I like to consider myself, I really like to view myself as the voice of reason. I like to see both sides of things, and I like to bring you, the listener, the reader, however you’re consuming my content, I like for you to understand the general- just have a better landscape of 360 degrees, versus just my opinion, you know what I’m saying?

So I’m listening to him, so then I start asking him a few more questions saying, “Well so you’re basically equating the Christians being prosecuted because they’re not on board with LGBT equality?” And he says, “Yes,” and he starts telling me about his neighbors, and that they’re a gay couple, and that he doesn’t- I’m trying to think of his exact words. Something like, “Don’t hate the sinner, hate the sin,” I think is exactly what he said.

So he’s talking about how he genuinely likes his neighbors, but he doesn’t agree in homosexuality. So this is where things take a little bit of an interesting turn, because now we are just about to cross the border back into the United States. So from there it’s probably about a twenty minute ride, once traffic clears up to get to the airport. So I know that I am now in the car with him for at least another twenty minutes or so, because we’re not quite at the border, we’re still just sitting in traffic. And I’m listening to what he’s saying, and I’m taking it with a grain of salt, because I’m not there to shove my views and opinions down his throat, nor is he trying to do it to me, he’s just voicing his opinion. And I’m just asking questions to get to the bottom of the opinion, but like the rest of the hundred topics that we covered, we kind of swiftly moved off of that topic.

So this is where it gets interesting. We roll up to the border patrol, I’m not even sure if that’s what they’re called, but that’s what I’m going to call them. And so the guy in the booth is asking me 25 different questions about why I was in Canada, if I got anything while I was in Canada, what my intentions are, when I arrived, all sorts of stuff. So the first question he asks is, “Why are you in Canada?” And I say, “I’m here attending a conference- or I was here speaking at a conference.” And then he says, “Well what conference was it?” So I say, “It was the Travel Gay Canada Conference.” And then he says, “Well when did you arrive?” And I say, “Wednesday.” And you know so he’s just asking the general questions that they have to ask. So now at this moment in time, I have basically outed myself from the backseat of the car that I am in with this gentleman who’s already expressed his very opposed views on the LGBT community. But since he and I were having such a great conversation, I just- I wasn’t going to be all preachy about it to him, I was just letting it go. I was really enjoying our conversation. And like I said, it wasn’t a huge deal to me at that particular moment. But if you think about it from the perspective of being- and I don’t want to get all gender crazed here, but I am a very petite young female. And this is a driver who is a pretty large guy, and just thinking about the vulnerability of being in someone else’s vehicle where you don’t really have a whole lot of control. So I always think of like the Bone Collector, I don’t know if you remember that movie, it was from probably like 1999, 2000, 2001, somewhere around that timeframe. And all I can remember is the scene of the tourist in the cab in New York and then what happens to them.

So I’m always a little bit weary when I travel; I like to be cautious, I like to be smart about things when- you know where I’m getting in cabs, where I’m getting out of cabs, all that kind of stuff. So I’m in a car with somebody who has already basically declared his views towards being anti-LGBT. I am now outing myself from the backseat saying I was at this conference, and just because I was at the conference doesn’t necessarily denote that I am LGBT because actually there were a lot of straight allies at this conference, which was really exciting to see. It was really a really good mix of people, and it’s great to see allies participating in conferences like this. So I easily could have been an ally in the backseat. But at the very least, I was at this conference, so clearly I have a pro-LGBT view on things is what one would assume.

So let me backtrack for half a second and just share with you that during my presentation itself, there was a woman in the crowd who had said that she was afraid to say anything now, because all of the things that I rattled off, it made her nervous that she didn’t want to make a misstep. So somebody else in the crowd said, “You know, it’s not necessarily about making the misstep, it’s about how you recover from the misstep.” And I have never written about that, which actually is surprising because it’s such a critical component to things. So if you accidentally stick your foot in your mouth, and you say something inappropriate, or you refer to me having a gay lifestyle, or you say homosexual, or whatever it happens to be; it’s not necessarily the fact that you’ve offended me, it’s how do you recover from offending me once it’s been drawn- once your attention’s been drawn to it.

So the fact that we just had this conversation on Thursday afternoon, and now here I am on Friday late morning having this all play out in front of me was really interesting. Because as we pull away from the border patrol booth, he easily could have just pretended like he wasn’t paying attention, has no idea why I was in Canada. He easily could have taken that road out, and it would have been fine because we had already had the LGBT discussion, we had already moved past it, I had already- you know at that moment when he was saying things about, “Don’t hate the sinner, hate the sin,” my respect for him had certainly decreased. There was definitely I felt different about him after having heard him say that. But the conversation was still good, and still- we had still built enough of a rapport within that hour and a half together that I was able to look past it and not be so filled with rage that I was blurry eyed or anything crazy like that.

So he immediately said, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Like we were just pulling away from the booth, and he straight out of the gate said, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” And I said, “You know what? It’s okay. I appreciate the conversation that we’ve been having, I appreciate hearing your views on things, we’re both here sharing our opinions and views on really- when you think about it, really politically charged topics.” Like we’re talking about 9/11 being a conspiracy theory, and he’s sharing his views, I’m sharing my views. We’re talking about secret societies, and we’re sharing our opinions and views on them. So clearly the LGBT piece was just a small piece of a larger conversation that we’re both really sharing our heated views on. So I gave him the pass, I genuinely said, “You know what, it’s okay. You know when you first said it, it offended me, but you know we’re here sharing our opinions and views, and that’s how you feel, I feel differently, and that’s okay. We can still be able to have a harmonious conversation coming from completely different viewpoints.” And it was also very obvious during our conversations that we were coming from very different political parties as well.

But to me that’s what makes a great conversation, is when you have two people who have really different opposing views who are able to have a conversation around them. So it was really, really interesting to have all of this basically happen just as I am leaving a conference where I’m talking about how and why communications are so incredibly important. Because now let’s look at it from a business owner’s perspective for a second. So you have me, who was just speaking at the Travel Gay Canada Conference. I am riding in a company car that is part of the Travel Gay Canada Conference. And I am now offended in the car in route to my destination. So that easily could have gone really wrong, because he could have said something similar to that; which in his defense I can’t imagine him just outwardly talking about that, because it really was relevant to the discussion that we were having. So I can’t imagine a couple of gay guys hopping in the back of his particular car, and him saying something really offensive and homophobic. That doesn’t seem like it was this person’s character. But it easily could have happened to somebody else, and it could have happened to another LGBT person who is less forgiving. So now all it would have taken is for me to have sent out a tweet to all of my followers saying, “Hey, just left the #TGC Conference, and was totally offended by-” and then putting in the @ sign for the company that I was riding in their car. So that easily could have gotten a lot of attention because I was just there talking about how important it is to communicate properly.

So as a person who has people on the front lines as a business owner, who it’s not just yourself, you do have people that you’re relying on to keep your business moving and flowing. So whether that be people who are checking in guests at a front desk, or people who are driving limos, cars, taxis, buses, whatever it happens to be; you need to make sure that the communication is coming from the top down. So that a driver knows that under no circumstance should they be sharing their views on certain things. And like I said, you know it’s a little bit of a different scenario because he and I were really diving into all sorts of uncharted territory in terms of conversation. So he easily could have- it could have backfired on him in a number of ways because we’re talking about religion, we’re talking about politics, we’re talking about LGBT. So there’s any number of ways that it could have gone ugly for him. But that wasn’t my intention, I wasn’t trying to have a conversation with him to then get him in trouble. But you know it’s just one of those things that you need to remember that your front line people are representative of you and your brand. So you want to make sure that they’re equipped with the knowledge and the education to understand what they should or should not say with their guests or passengers or whomever.

So I really- I had to share the story, and it’s really hard- it will be difficult for me to actually put in writing in a blog post, just because there are so many moving pieces to the story. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share the story with you on the podcast.

So now that I have digressed for a solid twenty minutes into this episode, I want to talk to you just really quickly about the online training course that I have available. And then we are going to get right into the interview with Andrea Hays.

So as you know, I launched the course How to Authentically Market to the Gay Community, and the course is really designed to allow you to tactically execute an LGBT outreach campaign. Or an LGBT marketing plan, or whatever you want to call it, but to really just reach the LGBT consumer and customers in your particular field. So it starts off the first half of it with the do’s and the don’ts and then the second half is really that tactical execution. So if you don’t want somebody- some driver of yours to be committing the faux pas that I experienced, maybe checking out this course might be something that you should look into. And you can check out the course at www.AuthenticGayMarketing.com, and you’ll be able to see a video there, there’s also a three part video series that you can sign up for that’s completely free, that just gives you an idea of what you can expect throughout the rest of the course. So go check that out and you know, let me know what your thoughts are. I can’t wait to hear it.

So before I jump us over into Andrea Hays, I just want to share a quick commercial from the Human Performance Academy which are fabulous, fabulous sponsors of this podcast. So hang tight for just a minute and then we will get into talking with Andrea Hays.

Okay it’s always so great to hear from Mike and Maria at the Human Performance Academy, so definitely go check out their website, www.MentalCompass.com. And before you hear Andrea, I just want you to know that anything that she and I are talking about in this episode, you can hear by going towww.JennTGrace.com/020, and that is for episode number 20. So without further ado I’m going to hop over to the interview with Andrea, but when it wraps up please hang tight because I have one more announcement for you.

So I am talking to Andrea Hays today. Andrea is the Diversity and Inclusion Director for MBA Orlando, which is central Florida’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She also works for Walt Disney Word and has been an active part of their Employee Resource Group for some time now. I do need to make it clear today that we are talking to Andrea in her capacity as a part of the MBA Orlando, the Chamber of Commerce, and as an all-around LGBT community advocate, and not on behalf of her role at Walt Disney World; I just wanted to make sure that’s very clear. So Andrea, I’ve given just a really tiny overview of who you are, but why don’t you just take a moment and tell the audience and the listeners a little bit more about yourself and maybe a little bit about your story, and what your path looked like that led you to where you are today.

Andrea Hays:

Sure. Good thing, thank you. So I’m a native Floridian, Sunshine State lover. I’m from the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, born and raised there. And when I finished college I had wanted to kind of move away if you will, and some of us always sometimes do, but I didn’t want to go too far. I enjoyed the state, I enjoyed the beaches, and loved my family and couldn’t really see myself anywhere too, too far. And after some consideration I then applied Orlando as my next home, specifically aspiring to work at Walt Disney World resorts, something I just wanted ever since I was a young child, visiting there since I was a little girl as of the age of two so the story goes. But so with the affinity of that brand, and that company, I think somewhere else in my mind that I’d also identified was that going to that place, Walt Disney World, always had such fond memories and while I may not have been aware of their employee policies, inclusivity, or anything else corporate related, I certainly did feel welcome. I think really when I was younger and I finished college, and I was looking for that city and that place, and where was I going to get a job, I had been working a few jobs before, but really where was I going to kind of put my feet down and start my new life. Coming to Orlando really just seemed to make sense. And so I came over here in ’99, the early part of it all, and did in fact get a job at Walt Disney World resorts. And I’ve been here ever since. So a little over fourteen and a half years later, I’ve had the great opportunity to be the President of their Employee Resource Group, and also on the leadership team for a culmination of six years. I’m sure we’ll touch base on this here in a little while but that’s really what my ‘ah-ha’ and enlightening moment was about- more about the LGBT community, as well as living there as a community member, but what it’s like within a large corporation, and the awesome things that employee resource groups have the ability to do; within a company, for their employees, as well as in their surrounding community.

Jenn T Grace:

You just set me up perfectly to actually ask you- and of course I’m already going off script a little bit, but I know that Employee Resource Groups are a really large part of what you’re involved in. For somebody who might not know what an ERG is, how would you best describe that?

Andrea Hays:

Wow, I call it the system. It’s a network of individuals, people at the same company, but really they’re always focused and dynamic, passionate individuals with a multitude of missions. You could like think of them as the hub on a bicycle wheel, or some other type of wheel, and all these sprockets coming out of them, and all the sprockets represent the ability of a work or influence that they have on those three groups I talked about before; either marketing strategies, new business strategy, or benefits for the employees to make sure that it’s an inclusive workplace. Fun, also being had at the workplace, it’s a better understanding and connection within an employee base. And then we get to also assist in being representative of their corporation as a corporate citizen, and to their philanthropic efforts, and representing the community. And usually they’re doing efforts that align with their corporate citizenship mission and vision, and it’s pretty fun for them to be able to go out do that. It’s a great group of folks, and Employee Resource Groups are just fantastic. I feel like I’m in love with them, and that now while I’m in the role of Diversity and Inclusion Director for MBA Orlando; while it’s a volunteer role, I do love it because now I have the ability to also assist, mentor and develop my local peer group out here who are just starting their ERGs in some of the companies, or they’ve had their ERGs for a little while and they need a little bit more of a kick-start jump to go to that next level. But I love it because I’m able to take my experiences and still assist, but even on a larger scale level and impact the greater Orlando area.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really awesome. ERGs are amazing, and I would imagine having ERGs of every kind is really important.

Andrea Hays:

It’s so great, and you know there’s such a variance on what ERGs look and feel like, how they function, they’re reporting structure within a corporation, and that there really isn’t one and one only business model for that, and I think that that’s what’s kind of great is that it’s able to be interpreted loosely enough that each corporation can utilize it to have success. And I’m sure you’re aware but while we’re talking about ERGs, Employee Resource Groups, some of them are also referenced as Diversity Resource Groups, Affinity Based Groups- ABGs, Associate Business Groups. There’s all sorts of slang and lingo, but I think though everyone understands when they see the word ERG or Employee Resource Groups, they understand it’s all one in the same. But even how they function, and even sometimes the core purpose of what the company is trying to achieve, they look and feel a little differently, but that’s what’s great about it all. Is that no one business is obviously the same, and that therefore they can build their base uniquely to them.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah that’s really awesome. So thank you for the overview, I think that’s helpful for anyone who’s not quite familiar. And I typically like to start off my interviews with some sort of lighthearted question, and I love the answers I get from this, so I can only imagine what you’re going to come out with. But-

Andrea Hays:

Oh great, good.

Jenn T Grace:

What is something about yourself that very few people know or would expect from you?

Andrea Hays:

Wow. Well I think that even for those that do know me, the few things that I share that people go, “Wow, really?” I’m an avid scuba diver, and while some people do know that, I think they automatically associate with in the coral reefs, and some shallow diving, maybe a few shipwrecks at that. I have had a chance to dive here in central Florida into our aquifer a few times, and some caverns as well as some very large sink holes. I’m going depths that normally some scuba divers may not go as far down, and the deepest I’ve ever gone is 175 feet.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow.

Andrea Hays:

So that may be normal for some people out there but I’m not quite sure the rest of the world has ever gone that far down. Really cool one time- I’m just going to ramble here for a second. One time, in one of the sink holes, you could see the ribcage of a mastodon sticking out of the limestone, and when we went down about seventy feet more, there was his skull. It was fantastic.

Jenn T Grace:

So I know that you alluded in the beginning that you had an ‘ah-ha’ moment that was somehow wrapped around what you refer saying. So why don’t you just take us there for a moment and explain what that ‘ah-ha’ moment was when you realized what you’re doing is what you should be doing.

Andrea Hays:

Yeah, it was a little bit of a delay. So I had some short ‘ah-ha’s a few years ago, probably maybe ten or twelve years ago, I had some ‘ah-ha’s solidify that you have to come into Orlando, greater central Florida, the community, my employer was fantastic, I was meeting wonderful people. So that was some good stuff that was making me feel like I had made a great decision. When I realized one of my truer talents of mentorship, developing others, and I finally felt to be a connector. And so I loved the ability to connect individuals, groups and organizations, and it’s one of my top talents. And I was asked to join and become a leader of the Employee Resource Group, and I had heard some about it, but then shortly after I joined I realized that this was a niche opportunity to take what I do and some of my talents, and directly apply it as early as possible. ERGs are kind of that hub to that wheel and being able to influence and mentor and develop others, and really I have the ability to also drive some businesses- some really unique business models was fantastic. But where I believe I have the greatest ‘ah-ha’ of you’re at exactly where you should be, is when I was part of a production of an ‘It Gets Better’ video. And it was the most fantastic experience, the whole process was wonderful. While we understand the importance of conveying the message of courage, honesty, integrity, and being truthful as to who you are through the ‘It Gets Better Trevor Project.’ It was during that process of the production, of the filming, as well as then the release, and then seeing the response from the community- LGBT community, our allies across the globe, joined along with all the other videos was the greatest ‘ah-ha’ that I’ve had in recognizing yes, I am to be here in this role, in this capacity, and that it was right on the mark. It almost gives me goosebumps still to talk about it today, and knowing that we were able to create something that will live on forever as a story and a message. To use as an adult of truly being who you are, and to love yourself, and to love others. And so that just kind of lit the fuels of my fire to move on and know that all sorts of other fantastic, wonderful things could still be done, and that when you bring a group of people together that have life likenesses, missions, vision, and that everyone has understanding of a common goal, it’s just fantastic to see the outcome of that product.

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely, and I feel like having a company such as- for you to have been a part of the video, I feel like that probably has such a great impact on LGBT youth. For everyone to kind of rally behind the It Gets Better cause, I feel like that’s something that will definitely make an impact, and has made an impact since it’s been released. It seems like even you talking about it is kind of like- I know you said you get goosebumps thinking about it; I feel like somebody listening to this might end up having goosebumps too, because it is such a powerful thing to be involved with. And it kind of goes along to my next question which is around inspiration. What keeps you inspired and motivated to do this every day? Because I think we can all pretty much agree that this is not always the easiest work to be done, but it is the most rewarding. So what keeps you motivated?

Andrea Hays:

Well I think what keeps me motivated is the last stage of- you know I now am the Director of Relations and Inclusion for MBA Orlando which is southern Florida, greater Orlando LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and I no longer am the leader, the President of the Employee Resource Group. I’m allowed now to dabble and play in the realm and field that seems to have a bigger impact, broader, and hitting many layers within companies, communities, and individuals, and that’s really what lights my fire. Is continuing to see the impact, whether it be those small nuggets that we need to appreciate and value, or the big, huge, great milestones that we want to celebrate. But that it’s important to always celebrate at all moments and levels, and that really that that’s how you continue to be able to move on and be able to still continue with that fire and making a difference and an impact. So for me really right now, helping some of my solo corporations here in central Florida, get their ERG started, kicked up and moving on. I’m also working on some models in helping current corporations who have had ERGs for a few years take them to the next level. And again that’s all through MBA Orlando, and that really is just so exciting to me while I am a volunteer being able to still see that impact, is so great whether it be- again those little nuggets, those huge wonderful milestones, and just understanding that what we’re doing is building a better community. Awesome place to work here in central Florida for clients, guests, customers and their experiences, as well as products and brands.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really exciting, and I know that some of what you shared about your motivation is certainly what motivates me. It’s really just making that broader impact on the LGBT community through business efforts. And I know we keep referencing MBA Orlando, but you haven’t gone into details. So do you want to just share- I talk about the LGBT Chamber of Commerce on a regular basis, but if somebody’s listening to this interview first and never heard another one, they may not know what exactly that is. So could you just share briefly what the- you know maybe the mission and vision is of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce that you’re involved in, in Orlando?

Andrea Hays:

Sure. So MBA Orlando has been in existence for just about twenty years, and serving the Orlando area, but now we’ve reached and expanded through central Florida which encompasses up to five, sometimes even six counties that surround central Florida. So we are not one city, one county specific, and that identifying there’s a great opportunity and need to serve central Florida and ensure a couple of things, and that’s what I’ll go in and share with you now. First off is that Chamber of Commerce, they’re the support developed to mentor our entrepreneurs. Individuals who aspire to make basically their greatest dreams come alive, and it takes great opportunities, ideas and build their business model to create their business. Helps them understand how to get their business going, the application, effort, certification, all sorts of marketing, resources that they need to get going and moving on, as well as the understanding of the importance of becoming a certified LGBTE, which is entrepreneur, and the certified LGBT entrepreneur, and that it’s associated with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. What that does is it enables them to be a supplier for other companies, and reaching contracts potentially with other corporations within their community geographically. Or the contracts with corporations that might be within their own country, and sometimes we’ve even seen outside of the country and abroad. And so in doing that, the application efforts, things that need to be reviewed, but it’s a pretty quick process. But if a corporation doesn’t currently have a program in place where they’re able to identify their suppliers, or whatever whether they’re black, Hispanic, women, veteran, Asian, LGBT, disability, and a few other segments there as well; helping them understand and how to set themselves up for that, so then therefore they can receive the credit and acknowledgement of the work that they’re doing. Not only just doing business with diverse suppliers, but also showing the mentorship and development, and there’s all sorts of wonderful and fantastic information that can be found out about that through your local LGBT chamber of commerce, as well as information through National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Both ends, both for the entrepreneur and corporations is how all that works. But that’s really where the larger focus is of MBA Orlando, is connecting the dots. Connecting the systems, and being able to connect the suppliers to either one another through different tiering systems, or directly to corporations. And corporations to the supplier what their needs are. Really we just need to know who our members are, and who are community members are as well in being able to connect. And so that’s really where the responsibility of the board and senior leaders of MBA Orlando is, making those connections with our sponsors and members, to understand their businesses, their needs and wants, and then to be able to swiftly and quickly connect them to one another, one another, on a need or desire.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow that’s a really comprehensive overview of what you guys do, and it’s very representative of what many of the LGBT chambers of commerce do. And for every one of these interview that I have, I have a blog post on my website that goes with it. So definitely if you’re listening to this and you’re hearing different- like the CEI, MBA Orlando, LGBTBE, all these different acronyms and terms and whatnot, you can head over to the website which ends up www.JennTGrace.com/018 for episode number 18. So anyone listening can head over there for more information on all these great things that Andrea is sharing with us today. So what a lot of the stuff that you were just talking about that you help facilitate for MBA Orlando, a lot of those things a company could use to help leverage their marketing efforts. So my next question for you is for someone listening to this, and they want to position themselves appropriately marketing to the LGBT community, do you have any piece of advice that you think would be something that would help make them successful in that?

Andrea Hays:

I think what’s most important, and I had shared this earlier in our conversation, but I think what’s most important and what I’ve seen personally experience and continue to see through others that be true to who you are. And that that is what will make you most successful is all, and that’s well sometimes we do get hung up on aspects of our own personal life; race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith, a multitude of other things. Whoever you are and however you identify, be confident in that, and that stick with what you know best. And so in the business world, find your passion, and find roles, jobs, careers, companies, corporations that align with that, and what their mission and vision are, and what your aspirations are. Or if you potentially create your own business, but stay passionate with who you are, and that specifically if you identify as LGBT, I would say that it is important, and if you’re looking to seek for a job and a place for employment with a company, review the HRC CEI. Do your homework and understand where those corporations are with an employee’s practices, benefits, policies, healthcare, as well as just how a community itself within the corporation is received. And a lot of that information can be found online, but sometimes we need to seek out and see if you know of anyone who works for these companies. Usually it’s pretty broadly understood, and once you move to a community it’s kind of understood which corporations do have inclusive policies and practices. While that may be a concern for some individuals, I think that’s really what I’d like to share. But above all, be who you are, be comfortable and confident with that, and stick with your passion and your career will shine.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really good advice. So along- actually that same line as well, have you yourself felt like you’ve been able to leverage your status as an LGBT person in Corporate America?

Andrea Hays:

In my career journey and path, there have been opportunities where the uniqueness’s of Andrea have been able to be leveraged. Whether they’re my skills and talents, my structured and formal education, through my degrees in college, whether it’s something that I just have passion around, better understanding, or volunteer experiences and other experiences in life, have always found to be how I’ve been able to move on and to continue to develop my career. While I have come out at work, and continue to come out which is very important, otherwise people will assume and continue to assume that we’re straight. I do it when it’s relevant to the topic, and that it’s important to convey that message. While I am gay, and I do identify as being gay, you would never hear me say, “Hey my name is Andrea and I’m a gay woman.” Where at the workplace it’s irrelevant. And so while I did say it’s important to continue to come out and be true as to who you are, be aware that you know, it’s only relevant in particular conversations. If you’re talking about work, your career, aspects of work, or your company, I would say just always keep conversations relevant and that’s where I still don’t share about my scuba diving experiences when I introduce myself to somebody, or I don’t share about the teachings that I’ve had most recently in my first introductions or when we’re talking about a project. Keep it relevant to who you are, but what I would say is while I am a gay woman, I have identified myself as a leader within the community, and others have as well, and that certainly has had an impact on my career, and that I continue to have opportunities such as my role that I have with MBA Orlando as the Diversity and Inclusion Director. But that is because I’ve stuck with what my passion is, and the fact I’ve been able to leverage and moved on, and I continue to have these development opportunities.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s really good, that explains it really well. And I have two more questions for you, and then I know you are actually driving on your way into work right now, so we can wrap up for you. And one of them is, is there any type of- maybe it’s a book or a business book, or some kind of program or social media, or some kind of tool that’s just transformed the way that you go about your roles? Whether that’s in corporate, whether that’s with nonprofits; just any type of program or tool that you would recommend to somebody that would help make them more efficient.

Andrea Hays:

Well gosh there’s so many.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh good I like that problem.

Andrea Hays:

That’s a tough question, gosh. I’m going to be vague because I don’t want to endorse any one particular product because there are so many out there. What I’ll say though is there are a multitude of books, resources, magazines, online questionnaires, classes out there. I think do your research but stick with something that’s really going to help you identify yourself. But I’m not going to push you a book or online. Pick the medium in which you learn best first. That’s most important. Don’t go read a book if you’re not a book reader, and don’t go sit in a class if that’s going to just be boring as heck to you. But I would suggest is identify these resources, if it sounds fun and exciting to you, that are also going to challenge you. I think that’s the most thing is that we always want to- we want affirmations to who we are. Well that’s fantastic but I think the greater opportunity is when we have these learning moments where we learn more about ourselves that potentially need a little bit more development or care.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s a really- I think a really good point that you’re making that is really just, you know find out what your strengths are and try to play to those. And I know that that’s something that I talk about a lot because when I really started to dig deep and figure out where it is that I excel naturally and what I am strong at, it just makes it easier and you’re more self-aware so you can adapt yourself in certain situations, so I think that’s a really good point. My last question for you is what is one thing that’s just really exciting for you right now?

Andrea Hays:

The one exciting thing that I’m doing right now with MBA Orlando, and I’m going to go back to that because it’s just really what I’m loving. Is that I get to continue working with these great people in our community. Whether we’re serving our community and volunteering, working with youth nonprofit organizations and development of our future, I get to hang out and talk with ERG leaders in the morning and at night, coffee and dinner, helping them see how they can develop their corporations and really just the synergy and the opportunities to really just make Orlando even more fantastic than it already is. I know that’s so general, but there’s just so many things. But we really have a great opportunity here in central Florida, and it’s already a fantastic place to live and come and play in, but the things that are happening here with our corporations and our community is just amazing, and I think that that’s really what excited me on a daily basis is knowing these awesome things that we’re working on as well.

Jenn T Grace:

That is totally awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time today to chat with us. Before you go why don’t you just let people know how they can find you if you would like that.

Andrea Hays:

Sure. I can be found in a couple of different places. If you go to www.MBAOrlando.com there’s more information really between our chamber there and if you click on the About Us link you’ll see information about the board, myself, as well as my biography, and there you can contact me if you’d like to reach out and discuss further about my role, the LGBT chamber, as well as Employee Resource Groups, Diversity & Inclusion, minority business development, and supplier diversity.

Jenn T Grace:

You are all over the place, so that is awesome. Thank you again and we will certainly talk soon.

Andrea Hays:

Okay thanks.

Jenn T Grace:

Okay so I genuinely hope that you appreciated hearing Andrea Hays, the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando; which as you now know is Orlando’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. So today’s interview was really all about Employee Resource Groups. And they are really, really an important part of a larger system of LGBT equality in the workplace.

So I am super excited to mention that I will be seeing Andrea and many other ERG folks in Minneapolis from October 29th through October 31st at the Out and Equal Workplace Summit. So if you are unfamiliar with Out and Equal, I would highly, highly recommend go checking it out. It’s www.OutAndEqual.org, and each year they hold a workplace summit which talks about all things advocacy related for LGBT equality in the workplace. And it’s the fifteenth year anniversary this year, so it’s really, really big and who doesn’t love Minneapolis? So definitely check it out. I will certainly be there, I have been involved in Out and Equal here in Connecticut for a few years now. I’m also involved on the national level helping run the affiliate program; so all of the regional affiliates scattered throughout the United States. I have been helping oversee for the last five or six months or so. So I would love to see you there. So if you are already planning on going to the conference, please, please, please let me know by shooting me an email or leaving a comment on the blog, or sending a carrier pigeon. However you want to do it. But just let me know that you’re going to be there because I would love to catch up with you. I genuinely appreciate the fact that you take the time to listen to this podcast, so I want to make sure that we get a chance to connect.

So with that being said, as always I genuinely love, love talking with you, and please head over to the website at www.JennTGrace.com/love and send out a tweet letting all of your followers know that you listen to this podcast, and you think that they should listen too. It’s all about letting people know that this free resource exists, so that way we can just make the LGBT world a better place for all of us.

So thanks again for tuning into this episode, I can’t wait to talk with you in episode number 21.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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